Saturday, September 7, 2013
'sin∞fin The Movie' by VestandPage at ]performance s p a c e [
Saturday, September 7, 2013 by londoncitynights
Werner Herzog once said "we are surrounded by worn-out images, and we deserve new ones." The doomy Bavarian director repeatedly came to my mind during sin∞fin The Movie, firstly because the title Performances at the End of the World is reminiscent of Herzog's own Encounters at the End of the World - both of which feature beautiful Antarctic photography - and secondly because VestandPage are hellbent on providing us with fresh iconography, new perspectives of the human body and its relationship with the aggressive, unfriendly world. Similarly Herzoggian is their commitment to placing themselves in dangerous situations in the name of seeking new images: blood spattering onto ice; a freezing man balefully staring at use from a crevasse; skin being carved open; two naked lovers frantically embracing inside an ice cavern.
Who are these people? Why are they doing this? Are they mad? How on earth do you make a bizarro art film on Antarctica?! The first one I can answer, the others I can only guess at (though I gather that the Argentinian Military were involved). VestandPage are Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes, a performance art duo with an oeuvre encompassing performance art, cinema, visual works, prose and independent curators. Both have been lauded by their peers, picking up art, literary and cinematic awards as individuals and as a duo.
sin∞fin The Movie, screened at ]performance s p a c e [ on Thursday comprises three parts. The first was filmed in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, the second in Northern India and Kashmir and the third in Antarctica. They describe the film thusly:
"[The film dives] into the absurdness of the quotidian. They perceived and defined spheres and sanctums: creations, unions, incorporations, rejections, collisions, invasions, infections and trans-formations of inner, private, social and universal spheres."This is a bit artybollocks for my taste. I see it as interesting people doing interesting stuff in interesting places for interesting reasons. They examine universal human experiences through the prism of extreme environments: taking the familiar and staging it within in an epic, alien landscape; the result being a heightened reality: both entirely surreal and as familiar as a dream.
Due to time constraints we only saw two parts of the trilogy; the South American and the Antarctican portions. Of these, it's the epic shots of Antarctica that lodges firmly within the mind, yet there is much in the South American segment to recommend. The films share a cinematic philosophy with the work of directors Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio, a firm rejection of narrative and a trust in the visual intelligence of their audience. To a spooky ambient soundtrack of tribal music we see great image after great image; a man opening a door on a beach, a woman swinging an enormous ball around herself, ghostly figures wandering through a dusty, deserted house, a man cutting his face with a shard of broken glass.
And boy what astonishing images they are! If you're shooting in Antarctica the landscape will do a lot of heavy lifting on it's own. This is a blasted, barren landscape, in the film entirely devoid of life except the two performers. It's about as close as you can get to walking across another planet, an environment so inhospitable that human figures within become interlopers; alien intruders in a place you instinctively sense people shouldn't be.
Every single modern image of people in Antarctica I've ever seen has been shot with an eye for documentary; warmly wrapped scientists explaining in clinical language the mechanics of how the place works. Granted they treat Antarctica with respect, but this is borne out of personal preservation rather than any attempt to understand the symbolism and aesthetic awe that this landscape inculcates in us.
So when I see the image of a topless Pagnes, splayed out on a floating hunk of ice adrift in a chaotic sea, his boots lazily sunk into the frozen ocean, it sparks off an enjoyably chaotic storm of mental connections. The thrill of seeing naked human flesh pressed against a floating iceberg, simultaneously in commune with the land and cocking a cheeky snook at it. This must be absolutely freezing, deeply uncomfortable and pretty damn dangerous, yet it's being done purely to provide us with an powerful cinematic image.
There's one moment where the danger appears overwhelming. Stenke is squatting on an ice floe, hacking at her hair with scissors, regressing into a wild, prehistoric femininity. Without warning, just a few metres behind her, a huge ice shelf falls into the sea with an almighty *CRASH*. I'd shit myself if that happened to me, but Stenke is a pro, she keeps her cool - not even flinching - and continuing on with the performance. Much like Antarctica itself, there's be ice water in these artist's veins.
A repeated image throughout is the breaking down of the barrier between the body and landscape. We see Stenke peering up through a jumbled mound of ice shards, Pagnes licking and sucking on a chunk of ice, figures dissolving into transparency in front of glistening caverns. Most dramatic is Pagnes impregnating a floating chunk of ice with his blood. He squirts it from a hypodermic syringe onto the ice, redness spreading in spider-web patterns through the transparent block. I imagined it freezing solid, a single bloody block of ice floating in eternity somewhere in the Antarctic.
It's this sense of eternity that struck me the most about the film. These landscapes stretch off into infinity, cold beaches and mountains in precisely the same state as they were when humanity first stood upright and picked up rudimentary tools. In the face of this awesome massiveness, the human body is exposed as a fragile lump of flesh and bone, engaged in a desperate, futile rush to make a mark on a world that doesn't care.
Pretty depressing huh? But what VestandPage show is that even in the extreme depths of frozen insignificance, altruism, partnership and love still possess a unique importance. These transient human feelings may be as ephemeral as a mote of dust, but these vital, new images underline that basic, everyday kindness is as important as the most epic of landscapes.